why everything costs money CAPITAL VOLUME 1 Part Fifteen
An ongoing series going through Marx, Capital Volume 1. Access free electronic copies of Volume 1 here or here. [Capital Volume I, Chapters 30-32, pgs. 908-940 of Penguin Press]
These are the last chapters of Capital Volume 1! It’s been…well, a lot. But we got there. These last chapters move quickly but shit happens in them.
Chapter 30: Impact of the Agricultural Revolution on Industry. The Creation of a Home Market for Industrial Capital In the last few chapters we saw how land expropriation was used to create the European working class, with Britain as a case study. The creation of a working class and a society built around wage labor and capitalist production changed everything. The workers were transformed into variable capital. The commodities in the society were also transformed into constant capital: “large establishments for flax-spinning and weaving arise, and in these the men who have been ‘set free’ now work for wages. The flax looks exactly as it did before. Not a fibre of it is changed, but a new social soul has entered into its body.” (we discussed how capitalism changes what things really are without changing their physical characteristics in part 1 and part 2).
But remember what it takes to making a working class: you gotta alienate people from the means of subsistence, i.e. make wage labor necessary for survival. The reason they trade so many hours of their life for wages is because they can use the wages to buy the things they need to survive. Then, the same process that creates a working class to produce stuff also creates consumer demand for that stuff - since now using the money from wages is the primary way to get things they need, rather than barter or producing needed stuff themselves. (909-911).
Large-scale farmers and manufacturers do better with the kind of consumer bases built by the European process of making a working class. Marx thinks the small, skilled producers in the countryside took advantage of a large but scattered consumer base, but couldn’t compete when concentrated into one huge market by industrial capital. Marx doesn’t spell out why this represented doom for the small producers, but a good guess is that they were able to set high prices due to the costs of finding alternatives – if the only other person that can work leather into the flyest Ye Olde Jordannes is 3 villages east, I might pay you a few extra shillings to get the same pair without the hassle. But if that person is 3 city blocks east…fuck your markup bro.
“Ooooh wee, wait till I hit the tavern with theseon…”
Chapter 31: The Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist
Marx thinks this went a different way than the capitalist farmer. Capital itself, he says, is older than capitalism: specifically, usurer’s (money-lenders) and merchants produced capital even in the Middle Ages. Feudalism prevented these things from turning into industrial capital and thus full blown capitalism. What changed this? Marx’s list: the land expropriation in Europe, the discovery of gold and silver in America, the enslavement and killing of indigenous Americans, the conquest and plunder of India, and the “conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of blackskins” – the actual historical events which fit under the theoretical concept of primitive accumulation. All of these, by the way, set the stage for the “commercial war of the European nations, which has the globe as its battlefield” (915). Marx says, pointedly: “..the veiled slavery of the wage-laborers in Europe needed the unqualified slavery of the New World as its pedestal” (925).
The power of the European states was set to the purpose of making capitalism the mode of production in the entire world: “Force is the midwife of every old society which is pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.” The Dutch’s colonial strategy for what is now Indonesia, which included assassination, training slavers with the collusion of native princes, and secret prisons. Between the murder and abduction for enslavement, town with a population of 80,000 declined to 18,000 in around 60 years. (916) The colonists of the Massachusetts Bay had a literal economy for the scalps of indigenous people: 100 pounds for male scalps, 50 for women or children (who said chivalry was dead?). Colonialism, slavery, graft, and plunder are at the bottom of the primitive accumulation that birthed industrial capital. But it wasn’t just the state, it was also corporate. Marx’s examples include: There’s also the English (later British) East India Company and its deliberate engineering of a number of famines in India with death tolls in the millions. And, of course, the state regulated, taxed, enforced, and profited from the corporate ventures done under its supervision (918). Colonies provided a market for budding industrial capitalists and the state provided those capitalists a legally constructed monopoly on that market.
The British East India Company chose the thug life
Finally, international banking and the international credit system plays a crucial role in all of this. Public or national debt, was one of the “most powerful levels of primitive accumulation”. The banks lend money to the same governments that legally give it its power over the supply of money. Governments get loaned money to meet their expenses without contracting services, but that makes increased taxes a long term necessity (to pay back, at least, the interest on the loans). Unless they’re suddenly going to get their fiscal act together, that just increases reliance on loans, since in the future they’ll have both the regular problems of meeting budget requirements and the additional problem of the interest on the loans they took out to make things work this time around. It’s a cycle that keeps going and going until you get Ron Paul. And who wants that?
Chapter 32: The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation
Marx thinks capitalism will inevitably create and sustain a particular kind of worker. Here, Marx is repeating a commitment he’s had throughout (that I wondered about in my commentary on part 2): the “classical form” of capitalism is the one where the capitalist mode of production interacts with waged workers, who own their own labor power as their private property. That is, not slaves or serfs.
But he also thinks capitalists, too, will be expropriated: the laws of capitalist production tend towards centralization, and “One capitalist always strikes down many others” (929).
But as this centralization increases, so too does the revolt of the working class, a class “constantly increasing in numbers and trained, united, and organized by the very mechanism of the capitalist process of production (929). Capitalism itself creates and sustains its own “negation”, (we could stare at that longer but fuck Hegel, just go with “pushback”, you aren’t missing anything): which will be “co-operation and the possession in common of the land and the means of production” (929).
Chapter 33: The Modern Theory of Colonization
“…capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons which is mediated through things.” (932)
stay with me here
The fuck? Didn’t we just read a bunch of chapters that said that, if capitalism is going on, then commodities and labor become capital? Yes, but it matters where, and what what the political relationships are in the place we’re talking about.
Marx says, capitalism and wage-labor are themselves the result of a certain, new kind of social contract that was developed in Western Europe (933). In societies where workers can accumulate for themselves, and aren’t forced into wage labor, you don’t get full blown capitalism. Marx’s example was the United States: disease that afflicted indigenous populations, combined with ethnic cleansing campaigns against them, had made land massively available for white settlers. These settlers could live off the land and make things for themselves, or make a living as small independent producers for a town rather than the constant march towards centralized capital (either as a worker or a small capitalist) that capitalism wrought in Western Europe. This was super different from England, where almost everybody was in the working class and most that weren’t were some type of capitalist. As a result, white settlers were not very economically productive in a typical, capitalist, macroeconomic sense: Marx reports that by one economist’s numbers, less than 10% of them qualified as hired laborers at all and that slavery was the “sole natural basis of colonial wealth” in the US.
But the Civil War (Marx wrote this right afterwards) caused a huge debt. Debts are paid with taxes. Taxes are paid with money. You get money through wage labor. If the state and its capitalist cronies could, I dunno, give all the land to speculators and thus make sure that the land needed for a subsistence farming was only available to people with money…
Nice alternative to a life of wage labor you got there. It would be a shame if something were to…happen to it…
And that’s it! That’s why everything costs money. Only took us 1000 damn pages.